Quad Foreign Ministers take aim at Russia and China

The joint statement that refers to both the Ukraine conflict and the situation in the South and East China Seas, draws criticism from Russia and China

Updated - March 04, 2023 09:52 am IST

Published - March 03, 2023 09:20 pm IST - NEW DELHI/BEIJING

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japan Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi after attending the Quad Foreign Ministers Meeting in New Delhi on March 3, 2023. Photo: Twitter/@SecBlinken via ANI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japan Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi after attending the Quad Foreign Ministers Meeting in New Delhi on March 3, 2023. Photo: Twitter/@SecBlinken via ANI

India joined other Quad members in calling for a “just and lasting peace in Ukraine”, and respect for a rules-based order in the South and East China Seas, in the first such statement by the grouping that is seen to criticise both Russia and China.

The statement, that was released after the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting hosted by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Delhi, was met with sharp responses from both Russia and China, who called the Quad grouping disruptive and “exclusiopnary”. The meeting was attended by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken,

“We continued to discuss our responses to the conflict in Ukraine and the immense human suffering it is causing, and concurred that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” said the joint statement released here after the sixth Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting. “We underscored the need for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter,” the statement added, calling for respect for “sovereignty, territorial integrity, transparency and peaceful resolution of disputes.”

The 18-paragraph statement called for greater Quad collaboration in support of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and opposed any “unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo or increase tensions in the area”, understood to indicate recent tensions over Taiwan. “We express serious concern at the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities,” the statement added, in reference to actions in the South and East China Seas. It also announced that the “Quad Maritime Security Working Group” would meet in Washington later this month.

‘Sharp language’

While the Quad Foreign Ministers’ language on China and the Indo-Pacific has been sharp in the past, this is the first time a direct reference to the war in Ukraine has been made in the FMs’ statement, and comes a day after Russia and China prevented consensus on a statement at the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

In September 2022, the fifth Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in New York made no reference to the conflict at all. After the previous meeting in February 2022 in Melbourne, Mr. Jaishankar had pointedly refused to answer questions on Ukraine, noting instead that the Quad grouping focused on the “geography” of the Indo-Pacific.

At a session of the Raisina dialogue shortly after the FMs’ meet on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the Quad for “playing one country against another”. He also slammed the Quad proposal for ASEAN cooperation, which he said was an attempt to cut Russia and China out of the East Asia summits.

“We never engage in playing any country against any other country but this is unfortunately being tried by some other outside players in the context of so-called Indo-Pacific strategy, using Quad not for economical purpose but trying to militarise it,” Mr. Lavrov said.

‘Exclusionary’ blocs, says China

Speaking at a “Quad Panel” of the Raisina dialogue conference organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation, Mr. Jaishankar highlighted that the joint statement had supported India’s demand for UN reform, and the inter-governmental negotiations process for expansion of the UN Security Council. He also welcomed the Quad’s unequivocal condemnation of terrorism, including the 26/11 Mumbai attacks “which claimed lives of citizens from all Quad countries”, and the Pathankot attacks. In particular, the statement expressed “concern” about the politicisation of UN designations for sanctioned terrorists, another jibe at China for placing holds on terror designation proposals made jointly by India and the U.S. last year.

‘Exclusionary blocs’

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning called on the Quad “to do more things that contribute to security and mutual trust between regional countries and that help to maintain regional peace and stability”, rather than being “about putting exclusionary blocs”

Asked about China and Russia objecting to two paragraphs referring to Ukraine, which ultimately derailed a joint statement at the G-20 meeting, and why both countries had accepted those paragraphs at the Bali summit last year, Ms. Mao said that “leaders of all 20 member countries at the Bali summit made it clear that the G-20 is not a forum to resolve security issues”.

“China believes the G-20 should follow through on leaders’ common understanding… and make contributions to promote a stable, inclusive and sustainable economic recovery,” she said. “We hope the members can respect each other and show solidarity and cooperation rather than division and mutual accusation.”

At the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting, China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang pointedly hit out at “power politics or even bloc confrontation”. Chinese officials initially dismissed the Quad as “sea foam” — suggesting its revival would not be long-lasting — but they have recently stepped up criticism against what they call “small circles” led by the U.S., including the AUKUS pact, the Quad, and the “five eyes” intelligence alliance, viewing the three platforms as being aimed at China.

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